REDD+ will only work if forest management and conservation activities can be proved to actually reduce carbon emissions. This requires workable monitoring, reporting and verification systems that keep track of changes in forests.
Anyone investing in REDD+ and carbon storage in trees will want value for their money. They will for example need to know how much carbon is being stored in the forest as a result of implementing REDD+ measures. ‘This demands monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems,’ explains Martin Herold, Professor of Remote sensing at the Laboratory for Geo-Information Science and Remote Sensing at Wageningen University. The amount of carbon being fixed can be calculated by using different data sources. Firstly, modern satellite imaging can deliver data on whether a forest is growing or shrinking. These figures then need to be combined with measurements on the ground to determine the quality of the forest, the size and type of trees concerned, and the carbon stored. For example, old-growth forests capture less carbon dioxide than a young and growing forest.
A reference level is needed to determine the impact of a country’s REDD+ programme. The reference level refers to the amount of deforestation that would occur if REDD+ measures were not put in place. Positive effects from REDD+ measures can then be measured against that benchmark. Such baseline data are however often lacking or of poor quality in developing countries. Herold advises countries and projects on how to deal with a lack of baseline data: 'Countries can adapt the type of monitoring according to the availability of data. Start with a simple system and improve it step-by-step. Poor data can be used initially, as long as one is transparent about the uncertainties.' MRV systems need to be accurate, but they may be too complicated and demanding for developing countries to implement properly. The trick is to find an efficient solution that meets the specific circumstances of each country.
Apart from data, many countries lack the capacity to carry out the measurements necessary to meet the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) standards, a requirement for participating in REDD+. Unfortunately, ‘it is often countries with a lot of deforestation that lack this capacity’, says Herold. He and other colleagues at Wageningen UR are involved in several projects to provide such training to policy makers and researchers from developing countries. Herold drew up a strategy for capacity building in Guyana and helped set up a monitoring system there. Guyana is now the most advanced of all countries and has already signed an agreement with Norway to finance its forest conservation programme. ‘So you can see that investing in capacity really pays off in the end’, concludes Herold.
From Wageningen, Herold coordinates an international team of researchers working in the Global Observation for Forest and Land Cover Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) project [link: www.gofcgold.wur.nl]. In 2012, the project, financed by the European Space Agency, moved its office to Wageningen. The project has produced a guide on monitoring methods for REDD+, the GOFC-GOLD sourcebook. The guide is commonly used by REDD+ negotiations, developing country experts and REDD+ practitioners.